About Salt and Sweeteners


Salt is a minor, but essential ingredient in baked goods. It rarely exceeds 2% of total flour weight in even the saltiest bread doughs, and often comes to 0.10% or less of flour weight in sweet products. However, its ability to accente and intensify the flavors of the other ingredients is indisputable - as is its own assertive presence when used as a topping for bagels, salt sticks and other rolls.

By way of caution, however, salt and yeast don't get along: some bakers delay adding salt to their doughs until all of the other ingredients, including the yeast, are well-mixed. We recommend mixing the dry ingredients for any bread dough- including salt and yeast - well you add the liquids. That way the salt will be too dispersed throughout the dough to affect the yeast.

Although a wide variety of salts - ranging from pure sodium chloride all the way to mineral-rich, colored "gourmet" sea salts from the far reaches of our planet - all salts are interchangeable for purposes of the recipes in t his book.

The only things to be aware of are:

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For Jews, sweetness is more than a pleasurable sensation: it's a metaphor for all that's good and meaningful in life. On Shabbes, ate sweet challah , and on Rosh Hashonah (New Year's) we dipped slices of apple into honey, and greeted each other with the wish for a zissen yor ("a sweet year"). The first day of cheder (primary school) often brought with it a taste of honey, so that forever after the child would associate sweetness and learning.

And even in the 1940s and 50s, among the immigrant Jews of New York, sweet concord grape wine from Schapiro's on Rivington Street, sponge cake and lekach (honey cake) were all de rigueur at happy occasions.


Until the end of the 18th century, sugar was a luxury that had to be imported from the Mediterranean or the New World. Then, in 1790, an enterprising entrepreneur built Europe's first beet sugar refinery in Silesia using a technology that had been developed in Germany more than 40 years before.

By 1840, Poland and the Ukraine supported more than 600 sugar factories. In 1848, the first year for which statistics are available, Russian sugar production, which includes Poland, was 23,900 tons. By the end of the 19th century, total output of 750,000 tons made Russia the fourth-largest beet sugar producer in the world, behind Germany, Austria and France.

Jews controlled a significant share of the Eastern European sugar industry. In 1832, Herrmann Epstein was the first Jew to build a refinery in Poland, which by 1850 was the country's largest and most modern. In Russia, Jewish entrepreneurs named Brodsky, Halperin and Sachs made their fortunes in sugar; by 1872, Jewish enterprises were responsible for one-quarter of Russian sugar production, and some estimates put this percentage as high as two-thirds, when Jewish-managed factories are included.

From then on, the Yiddish cooking of Russia and Poland took on its characteristic sweetness and differentiating, for example, the challah and gefilte fish of Poland and the Ukraine from those of Lithuania, Hungary, and Bohemia. And although sugar all but eclipsed it as the sweetener of choice, honey continued to hold an important, if limited, place in Jewish baking, notably in like lekach and tayglech (honey balls), which no Rosh Hashanah table is complete.

Sugar does more than just sweeten. In meringues and creamed with shortening, the sharp edges of the sugar crystals rub together to form the air pockets that help to leaven sponge and chiffon cakes. Sugar inhibits gluten development, producing more tender doughs.

Sugar also provides food for yeast, although high percentages of sugar actually retard yeast activity. Since it caramelizes at around 330°F/165°C, sugar promotes browning. And it is hygroscopic - that is, it attracts and holds water - which helps keep baked goods moist and fresh.

Chemically, sugar consists of pure sucrose, which itself is made up of a fructose molecule that is joined to a glucose molecule, and it is this structure that causes sugar to recrystallize easily, causing headaches when it occurs.

To overcome this problem, bakers often will add either glucose, light corn syrup or honey to their simple sugar syrups, or an acid like lemon juice or cream of tartar, which breaks the bond between the fructose and glucose, forming invert sugar. Interestingly, because fructose is sweeter than either sucrose or glucose, invert sugar is sweeter than the white sugar from which it's made.

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Types of Sugar

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Other Sweeteners

Besides sugar, other sweeteners play a prominent role in the baker's repertoire as well:

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